By: Brian K. Vaughan (story), Fiona Staples (art)
The Story: Are there couple’s counselors for wanted criminals?
The Review: With my overloaded Pull List, I shouldn’t mind a few months’ hiatus from any given series, but I do get a little pang every time Saga goes on break. It’s a bit like every time I started a new semester in law school and basically abandoned all my friends for four months, except Alana, Marko, Will, Klara, Izabel, etc., don’t have Facebook pages for me to keep up with. After that kind of separation, you can’t help feeling a little giddy when you finally have the chance to catch up.
Despite the break, or maybe because of it, Vaughan is clearly in his usual fine form, opening the issue with—but of course—a woman under labor. This time the lucky lady is Princess Robot, whose delivery takes place within far more rarefied circumstances than Alana’s, but without the love of the father nearby. Chalk this up to the princess still being on her epidural, but this is the first time you’re really seeing the depth of feeling this robotic woman is capable of, both in her tender ministrations to her newborn child or her confidence that Prince Robot is “alive and well somewhere out there[.]” Typical Vaughan: always finding ways to find the humanity in non-humans.
Also typically Vaughan is the biting yet never off-putting humor he brings to the table. There’s an effortless quality to his jokes and the organic way they pepper his scripts. Never do you get the awkward sense that he’s trying to be funny in his writing. Vaughan’s humor arises from the same place as most of the real world’s humor: from the confluence of compelling characters in strange situations. You laugh at Alana’s rant to a repeat heckler (“If watching is that painful, why don’t you do literally anything else? It’s not like you have to clean your gutters or help the homeless. You can just stare out your window or—”), but you empathize with the emotions and problems driving it, too.
Such is the genius of Saga and its determination to tell a story about ordinary people experiencing ordinary conflicts under extraordinary circumstances. On the outside, the plot may be about a family of fugitives in hiding from the conventions of whole worlds, but the story Vaughan’s really writing is about a couple dealing with the typical frustrations of married life with a young kid. Not that Alana and Marko’s relationship was ever smooth sailing even at the best of times, but the honeymoon is decidedly over. Their squabbles over the proper way to raise Hazel while on the run or about the balance of power in the marriage (“So just because I don’t make money means I’m not working, too?” Marko demands testily) are of no moment. It’s Hazel’s pronouncement that “[t]his is the story of how my parents split up” which cuts you to the quick.
But doesn’t the dread that line inspires tell you just how well Vaughan’s gotten you to fall in love with these characters? This could very well be Vaughan’s way of reminding you that Alana and Marko are not the fated lovers from some romantic epic, but are in fact a normal couple subject to all the same forces that split up perfectly good couples every day. Maybe their differences in personality will finally drive them apart; maybe Marko will have a desperate househusband moment with that kids’ dance instructor he meets at the park; or maybe they’ll both just come home one day and realize that the flame is gone.
The work of Staples proves that you can have a space opera without making it look like a soap opera. For all those superhero artists out there (especially the ones from DC), please note how subtly she crafts the characters’ expressions. This goes beyond your classroom list of one-word emotions; this is Staples using the characters’ faces, along with Vaughan’s elegant scripting, to capture messy, complicated, hybrid feelings that you recognize only by the act of living. And it goes without saying that only Staples’ soft, free-flowing lines and vital colors can accurately depict the halcyon days of a toddler.
Conclusion: It’s almost disappointing to have such an easy, accessible read, as it makes the greatness of the issue pass even quicker.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – I have to say, with the floppy hair and bleached look, Marko is looking uncannily like a burgeoning Korean pop idol.
– Ugh, not a fan of Frendo so far. “[S]hitting monstrosity” is right.
– So how many parents out there have been doing more “skish”-ing lately?